The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

THE WALK Review

Man on Wire is the Academy Award winning documentary from 2008 that preceded this dramatization of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. What made the documentary such a critical success and one of the more all-around entertaining documentaries ever made was largely due to two factors-1) Petit himself and 2) the heist-like nature required to pull the stunt off.  Petit is a character who needs no exaggeration. To watch him describe his mentality and desires in the documentary was to paint so vivid a picture that re-enactments were never needed. There was also a surplus of photos and footage from around Petit and his accomplices planning and executing this rather risky gamble to fulfill one man's crazy dream that filled in the gaps when Petit wasn't acting out his recollections. So, the question is why would anyone want and more importantly why does anyone need another version of a story that has already been told in a magnificent (and no doubt more honest) way? The documentary was filled with drama and tension so why dramatize it further only to restrict it to a narrative structure that would likely end up making the distressing story rather passionless. There seems to be no definitive answer as to why this new interpretation was necessary within director Robert Zemeckis' film, but strangely it seems to make perfect sense given the man behind this particular vision. Zemeckis has always been a filmmaker who likes to push the envelope when it comes to technology and trying things other filmmakers wouldn't dare attempt (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, The Polar Express). In Petit's story the director has found an inherently dramatic, fun and literally breathtaking tale that perfectly accommodates the type of innovative filmmaking methods he likes to march out and test on his audiences. And so, while The Walk may not be a movie we all needed, that certainly doesn't make it one worth ignoring. In fact, it's rather invigorating once it gets going.

New Trailer for THE REVENANT Starring Leonardo DiCaprio

With The Martian opening this week it's no surprise that 20th Century Fox is trotting out a new trailer for it's big awards contender this season in director Alejandro González Iñárritu's (Birdman) The Revenant starring what we all assume could finally bring Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar. That said, I always imagined this would be something of a tough sell to the general movie-going public. It is a film that seems to largely operate on visuals alone (though they are Emmanuel Lubezki's visuals, but again the average movie goer doesn't know or care about that) and while DiCaprio is one of the few movie stars left in a culture where actors are known more for what superhero they play than their body of work it will be interesting to see how far audiences will follow the actor based on his presence alone. Getting them to follow him to the tune of a $50 million opening weekend for The Great Gatsby is one thing, but doing even half that for The Revenant would be impressive. The fact the film is also following the same release pattern as Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (limited on Christmas day, wide on January 8th) is curious and an intriguing game to watch play out for people such as myself who find these kinds of match-ups entertaining. All of that said, this new trailer sells the hell out of the action/adventure/drama that also features recognizable and credible faces in Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson. Lubezki's aesthetic that is complimented by Iñárritu's desire to shoot this film in remote locations in Calgary and all in natural light allow for a stunning and distinct style that, along with the pure adrenaline this clip offers, will hopefully set the film apart from everything else we see this holiday season.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 29, 2015

THE GREEN INFERNO Review

It's been just over a year since I saw the first trailer for Eli Roth's The Green Inferno. The trailer for the film was attached to my screening of 22 Jump Street in June of 2014 and while it was odd to see such a gorrific trailer for a micro-budget horror pic right before a big budget broad comedy sequel, it made sense. The target audience would essentially be the same and the intrigue of the trailer was more than engaging. It promised a peak into the Peruvian jungle at a tribe that had never been filmed before. It was an undeniable hook that the film rode throughout it's (extended) promotional campaign, but one that unfortunately doesn't pay off in the way one might have hoped. This is often the case when the idea of something is built to be greater than the reality of what that something actually is, but this is a distinctly different kind of disappointment given there is clearly potential to be mined here still. Of course, this shouldn't be considered a surprise given director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) hasn't made anything remotely solid since (maybe?) the fake trailer segment "Thanksgiving" he produced for Grindhouse eight years ago (granted, I haven't seen Hemlock Grove, but he was only at the helm for a single episode). So, how I expected this to be any different rested solely on the hope that the director had done some growing over the past few years and found it interesting to begin experimenting with new storytelling ideas in a genre he clearly loves and feels comfortable operating in. Consider that hope officially lost.

Teaser Trailer for Disney's Live-Action THE JUNGLE BOOK

In catching up on news I missed while I was away at the Toronto International Film Festival I realized I hadn't yet posted about the first look at director Jon Favreau's live action remake of Disney's The Jungle Book. Despite this, I've now watched the trailer several times and *think* I'm more on board now than I was with my initial reaction. My initial reaction was that the CGI was overwhelming with thoughts longing for the "dark and gritty" take I remember Stephen Sommers film being for me at the age of seven in 1994. Of course, even though that was still a Disney produced film it fell more in line with Rudyard Kipling's original version whereas Favreau's iteration seems to be a straight-up adaptation of the the 1967 cartoon with the animals looking more real than cartoony despite still technically being cartoons. That said, the film looks beautiful as the CGI has clearly allowed the creative team to do things they would never be able to accomplish with real, trained animals and I'm interested to see what tone Favreau ultimately goes with tone-wise as much of this is fairly somber until the last clip makes sure to remind us this is still very much a Disney product. Favreau has also rounded up an impressive voice cast that includes Bill Murray as Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Lupita Nyon’o as Raksha, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, Christopher Walken as King Louie and introducing Neel Sethi as Mowgli. The Jungle Book opens in 3D on April 15, 2016.

EVEREST Review

Like it's titular mountain, Everest the film is a vast beast of an adventure. More than anything, director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband, 2 Guns) gives the film a strong foundation on which to stand and a sense of adventure going forward that is more than enough to make up for what can sometimes feel like a slim narrative. That is, of course, until the film reaches it's last half hour in which it feels like it has to rush to resolve every plot strand it has set up for it's large ensemble cast. That said, the film is more than a solid venture into one of the most dangerous places on earth that people dare to go which brings us to the real heart of the film. Without the crux of why each of these individuals wanted or were willing to risk their lives for a reward that, for some, could be viewed as senseless is what provides the anchor of the audiences investment. There are plenty of ways in which Kormákur could have chosen to approach this set-up that was primed perfectly for little more than a tense, action spectacle, but at it's heart this is a human story. And so, the fact Kormákur and writers William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy have essentially made both a rousing testament to the human spirit and a devastatingly brutal film that delivers the man versus nature psychology to an unflinching degree is admirable. In many ways, Everest doesn't purport to be anything more than a straightforward documentation of this true story that occurred in 1996 when a team of thrill-seekers attempted to scale Mt. Everest, but it can't help but to be about more given the grand themes that life naturally brings down upon us when we're stranded in desperate situations and have nothing else to turn to but our thoughts and memories. Kormákur largely tackles the positive aspects of this kind of adventure and way of thinking in the first half of the film before everything goes south and the darker side of these risks are exposed.

TIFF 2015: SPOTLIGHT Review

Spotlight is a fine example of what perfect execution looks like. From the outset we are given the broad scope of the issue the film looks to tackle and from there we dive right into Boston, 2001 to meet the key players in the game the film will be playing. There are no hiccups, no time for second guesses and nothing narratively to take away from the main objective. Spotlight is a prime piece of meat with all of the fat trimmed and only the juiciest parts left so as to make the whole experience one of pure, concentrated excellence. That said, it is certainly an interesting case in a couple of areas. The first being that director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, Win Win), who is generally regarded as both a solid writer and filmmaker, was coming off the worst reviewed film of his career a year ago with The Cobbler and so to bounce back so ferociously with this effortlessly intelligent thriller makes it clear there is something more to be said for the process of filmmaking. The other, is that this reviewer in particular is a Catholic. This is an influential piece of information considering Spotlight is about the Boston Globe's investigation into the Church's sexual abuse scandal that gave cause for people everywhere (Catholic or not) to take a second look at one of our most respected and trusted institutions. Because the film plays it straight down the middle, with no time for subplots or unnecessary qualms, no one party is ever viewed unfairly, but rather the irrefutable facts presented allow the audience to make up their own minds.

First Trailer for THE BIG SHORT Starring Brad Pitt

It was with an unexpected twist that Paramount decided to unveil the first look at director Adam McKay's (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys) first foray into more dramatic territory, The Big Short. With Paramount having a somewhat tepid year when it comes to any possible awards contenders it looks like the studio will be banking big on McKay's latest. The film certainly has the star power to be a contender as the likes of Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell head this thing up with a plethora of solid character actors filling in the supporting roles. While this is good news for those of us that love movies one has to wonder if it was a wise choice to place another film in an already crowded market. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens clearing out the majority of December all of the late awards bait is either opening on Christmas Day or in platform style in the following weeks after the major holiday. This will make movie-going a little less horrible for those who don't live in major cities through January, but now the question will be who will rise to the top? Given neither The Revenant, Joy, Concussion, or The Hateful Eight are likely to budge from their Christmas day spot, one has to assume Paramount has some pretty positive feelings about their product. Following four outsiders who saw the impending global economy collapse coming in 2008 the film tracks them as the housing market crashes. The Big Short also stars Melissa Leo, Tracy Letts, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater and opens on December 11th before expanding wide on December 23rd.

TIFF 2015: HIGH-RISE Review

Where to even begin with director Ben Wheatley's High-Rise is beyond me. If ever there were a muck of a film that thrived on it's look and style alone it would seem to be this one. Not even the charisma of insanely charismatic British actors like Tom Hiddleston and Luke Evans can save the hot mess this is, though. From the outset audiences are presented with a dystopic world of chaos and destruction that seems so disconnected from anything resembling familiarity that there is no urgency to care. Instead, this intended metaphor of social hierarchy is an aimless slog through the explanation of a failing system rather than any kind of examination of how social classes are commonly found in societies that are actually developed. What we see in High-Rise is a society that never develops past the embryonic stages. It's always been something of a rule of thumb that a dominant hierarchy is necessary in order to maintain social order and provide a stable structure, but the folks who have created this luxury tower block seem to all want to live in luxury with no one invested in putting in the dirty work. Naturally, those living on the lower floors are the ones believed to be less worthy of their place in the tower and thus what eventually develops is an all-out dangerous social situation that leads the residents of the high-rise to fragment into violent tribes hellbent on provoking one another into submitting to the other. While the circumstances of this premise would certainly turn into a rather disorderly situation in any film I didn't expect the film itself to do the same thing.

TIFF 2015: ANOMALISA Review

Who is Michael Stone? It is the question we can't help but to ask after he arrives at an upscale hotel in Cincinnati in Charlie Kaufman's first stop-motion film. We ask this due to the fact we have followed this man from his flight, through the airport, on a cab ride and into the lobby where other guests whisper his name as he walks by. We come to learn that Stone is a speaker famous for a book he published about customer service. As mundane as this sounds it is of course with some purpose as Kaufman's entire exploration of the character of Stone has to deal with the mundanity of life in general. As with the majority of projects written by Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and the one he's directed prior (Synecdoche, New York) Anomalisa also deals with themes of identity, mortality, our relationships with other people and the big question that is, "what is the meaning of life?" This latest experiment scales things back to a simpler form though, where the complexities of these existential ponderings aren't all-consuming. Rather, they come in the form of keen observations that perfectly summarize the vapidness of the majority of our interactions on a daily basis. This, paired with the chosen visual style of the film is rather inspired as not only does it allow Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson the chance to visually illustrate what might have otherwise been conveyed through dialogue, but it also allows a rather uninteresting story to be told in an interesting fashion.

TIFF 2015: THE DRESSMAKER Review

I watched what could be considered some very strange films at the Toronto International Film Festival, but I don't think any of them were as weird or out there as Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker. This movie, you guys, is completely bonkers. You wouldn't think so given the look of the header photo above and the fact it stars such credible and well-respected actors as Kate Winslet, Hugo Weaving and Judy Davis, but once this thing gets rolling it is both surprising and distracting as to how ridiculous it gets. As I watched the events of the film unfold I couldn't help but to keep writing down again and again how I couldn't believe they were going where they were going and yet, the film kept going...one step further. Now, to be clear, this isn't strange or ridiculous in the sense of bombastic violence or discussing things typically considered too taboo for everyday discussion, but more in the sense of general absurdities. Having not directed a film in nearly twenty years and operating strictly in Australia this would seem to be a fine opportunity to return for Moorhouse and there is plenty of stuff to have fun with here despite the fact I wasn't able to get on board with all of it. With Winslet leading the charge (though she seems miscast) Moorhouse and her ensemble of misfits that make up this small town in Australia endeavor to deliver a perfectly cheeky little screwball comedy that is able to hold a slight amount of substance rather than being completely flippant.

TIFF 2015: BLACK MASS Review

Director Scott Cooper has always had a knack for creating atmosphere. With only two feature films under his belt he has established quite a distinctive voice, but unfortunately his films have begun to deteriorate in quality as he goes along as well. I really kind of loved Cooper's 2009 debut that won Jeff Bridges a Best Actor statue and even found the consistently depressing Out of the Furnace to be a strong if not exceptional entry, but Black Mass is by far his least satisfying film yet. It's not for a lack of trying as there is clearly a large amount of effort that has been put into this production. The period setting is especially well rendered and Johnny Depp's lead performance as James "Whitey" Bulger almost single-handedly saves the production from being a complete loss, but even he can only do so much. It is impossible to talk about Black Mass without talking about the state of Depp's career and how badly he needed this to be both a critical and commercial success so as to reestablish himself as the "movie star" he was pinned as after Pirates of the Caribbean and while I'm sure the film will make a fine amount of money (not a huge amount, but fine) this will in no way place the actor in the "return to form" category many were already deciding to call ithis. What it is is a fine showcase for a talented actor to do what he does best and with as showy a role as this is Depp certainly delivers. It is all the factors surrounding this performance that don't live up to their potential with the main problem being screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth not finding an interesting way to adapt Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill's book.

TIFF 2015: LOUDER THAN BOMBS Review

If there has been a single trend in all of the films I've seen so far at TIFF it is that of the one focusing on depressed white people. Apparently, a lot of these folks become so bored with their seemingly perfect(ly fine) existences, that many others would no doubt kill for a piece of, that they feel the need to create senseless drama for themselves to feel something, anything. It's a sign of some type of narcissism as the three main male figures in this film are so self-involved in their quest to get past canonizing a woman who, despite being gone for several years, still dictates much of their daily lives. This isn't to say the death of a loved one is an easy thing to cope with, but it is the actions and the inability to communicate between these three in the wake of their loss that places them each on different roads that see them looking to heal themselves in ways of aggression or impulse or hatred instead of trying to sit down and figure it out together. Director Joachim Trier, who has made two previous features (Reprise, Oslo, August 31st) that I haven't seen has written an original screenplay with frequent collaborator Eskil Vogt and while it is easy to see where he is coming from with his examination of the effects we can each have on one another's lives, even in the smallest senses, Louder Than Bombs still feels like something more appropriate for a forty-five minute short rather than a nearly two-hour slog that keeps piling on the bad, conceit-ridden choices that push these individuals farther and farther from where they need (or want) to be.

TIFF 2015: COLONIA Review

Colonia is one of those movies where you can tell from the opening moments that at the very least it's going to be a snappy little thriller. There is a certain charisma to the camera movements and to the way the period elements compliment the filmmaking techniques. Everything about it simply screams validity and slickness. There is nothing amateur about the film, it is a movie made by professionals for mainstream movie goers and contains a compelling story with interesting enough characters to make you feel you haven't wasted two hours of your life when the credits begin to roll. That said, there is hardly anything exceptional about Colonia either. The fact that it does operate under such traditional methods allow for it to be a handsomely mounted film, but offers nothing in the way of being interesting or different. If you see the trailer or even stills from the film you can likely guess what you're getting yourself into here. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you're director Florian Gallenberger making your English-language debut. The director, who is originally from Germany and has worked with star Daniel Brühl before, gives his latest film a strict sense of tension while loading on the information about the titular cult located in the South of Chile. Whereas something such as Argo or Munich thrive on capturing their period espionage thriller through the lens of the time period they're set in Colonia more or less tells us what we need to know, hopes we get wrapped up in it and if not, moves on to the next act.

TIFF 2015: THE FAMILY FANG Review

I rather enjoyed Jason Bateman's 2014 directorial debut Bad Words. I think I've watched it more times than I initially imagined I would given I thought it was fine, but little more. That said, I was really excited to see what Bateman would do next in the director's chair and boy does he deliver. While I had tempered expectations for The Family Fang it was clear after the films cold open that we were in for something pretty unique. This is in fact the strongest element the film has going for it in that you never quite know where it's going. Eventually, given the circumstances presented, we understand the themes of family and liberation that are being touched upon, but never do we know exactly what will happen next. This is due largely in part to the fact the premise is so different and off the wall. Adapted from a 2011 Kevin Wilson novel by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Oz the Great and Powerful) The Family Fang is a film that is telling a dysfunctional family story through the conduit of performance art. With this material Bateman has taken advantage of the dark comedic tones the story highlights and is really able to explore not only his growth as a filmmaker (you can feel the more assured hand at work), but a more complex range of emotions. Bad Words was very on the nose for the sarcastic, cynical straight man, but Family Fang requires more layers and layers he has provided as his latest film never stops evolving and the characters only grow out of the demons they're forced to come face to face with.

TIFF 2015: THE MARTIAN Review

It's weird. With everything The Martian has going on and going for it you'd think it might be more of a straightforward action film, but rather this is a movie about problem solving. Problem solving in the cheesy sense of never giving up, but legitimate in that our protagonists circumstances have him stranded on Mars. These days, one almost goes into a Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) picture with the expectation of receiving something handsome without necessarily having any sustenance and that reaction has been warranted over the last few years (Prometheus has it's lovers and it's haters, but I'm in the former camp). What makes The Martian different than say Robin Hood, The Counselor or even Exodus though is that it once again sets the director up in what seems to be his most comfortable and inspiring setting: space. In going back to the cosmos, the director does his own problem solving and dives head first into his grand new science fiction film by embracing every aspect that makes up this story. Whether that be in the Mars-based segments with Matt Damon's astronaut Mark Watney or on Earth at the various NASA headquarters with engaging intellects like Chewitel Ejiofor and Jeff Daniels. Beyond having rounded up a stellar cast Scott has more or less crafted his most entertaining film in years by really seeming passionate about the material. Of course, rather than space, this could be the reason all of his films taking place out of our planet's orbit tend to generally turn out for the best. Scott is an explorer, a man who likes his scope large and his stories fairly bombastic. What bigger canvas is there to paint on than space?

TIFF 2015: LONDON FIELDS Review

Amber Heard certainly seems to have an affinity for playing the film noir types who elicit little more reaction than the understanding that she is little more than a pure representation of the male fantasy. Heard has done this for years whether it be in Drive Angry or Machete Kills, but in London Fields we are operating in a film that is actively trying to become a member of the noir genre rather than riffing on it. In London Fields, Heard plays a character who is clairvoyant and a total femme fatale named Nicola Six. Seriously. All of that is true. Nicola is a seductress by way of having lost her parents at a young age and making up imaginary friends that automatically tells us she is tormented and taking it out on every man she encounters with her natural gifts from God. She enjoys playing this role to large effect with her many worshipers. Nicola's exploits are made all the more heightened by the arrival of Billy Bob Thornton's writer in a London that is on the brink of nuclear war. Thornton's Samson Young is looking to write a new novel when he stumbles upon Heard's Nicola who just so happens to live in the same building he's staying in. It always feels like a risk including a writer in your film as it easily sets one up for more direct criticism than the film might receive otherwise, but while London Fields recognizes this possibility and even addresses it to a certain extent the somewhat interesting ideas at play here are still not able to convey themselves as a good movie. At all. In fact, this is pretty terrible all-around.

TIFF 2015: EQUALS Review

Man, that Nicholas Hoult really likes himself some Romeo & Juliet stories, doesn't he? If you recall, he made a little subversion of the zombie genre back in 2013 that also borrowed from Shakespeare's doomed story of young lovers. While Warm Bodies at least had the sense to have a sense of humor about itself Equals is not that kind of movie, but instead plays it completely straight allowing it to end up completely boring. From the outset of the film it all feels familiar. One can see where this thing is going from a mile away and I'm not even sure how anyone read Nathan Parker's (Moon) script and thought it was a good idea to make this movie again. Again you ask? Yeah, do you recall a little 2005 Michael Bay film by the name of The Island? Remember how that film was accused of ripping off another movie? Well, I'm sure the makers of the 1979 film, Parts: The Clonus Horror, found inspiration from another source (George Lucas?) and there source before that (George Orwell?). This happens all the time. I'm not saying Equals has done anything wrong as far as copyright infringement goes, but I am saying it feels like they took out the clone aspect of The Island, added in some aspects of The Giver and threw in a third act R & J twist and called it a day. Director Drake Doremus made a nice little examination of young love with his breakout hit in 2011, Like Crazy, but this utopian set version of that story yields nothing fresh or interesting.

TIFF 2015: ROOM Review

Alice in Wonderland has been used as inspiration for what are surely an innumerable number of stories. The idea of getting lost down a rabbit hole or your life not going the way you'd imagined it when you were a child is universal. The metaphors and analogies to be made are no doubt endless with any aspect of any single person's life, but Room is a certain kind of Alice story as you can feel the loss of our protagonist both physically and psychologically. Loss is a key word, a key theme if you will given the circumstances of the situation presented in the film, but if you don't know that situation going in you're all the better for it. All that is necessary to know is that Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome, a woman who has seemingly been trapped in a single room shack for an ungodly amount of time while having raised her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in this confinement for the entirety of his life. There is only a single door in their room and it is protected by a locking system that only a mysterious visitor (Sean Bridgers) knows the code to. This stranger, referred to as "Old Nick", brings Joy and Jack food once a week, but like the majority of the supporting characters in any Alice story, he is cruel towards our heroine. Knowing little more than this myself before walking in, Room operates as a tense and unnerving thriller for it's first half before becoming an intense psychological trip in it's second. Both are equally engaging as is the film as a whole.

TIFF 2015: THE PROGRAM Review

There is something to a Stephen Frears picture that is always appealing. I never expect much from them, but I typically end up with something pretty great. I've probably watched Philomena a handful of times since 2013 because I tend to show it to people who have never heard of it. The same could be said of The Queen or High Fidelity. These aren't major, milestone pieces, but they are always quenching in a way only Frears can seem to deliver. Maybe I should have went in with those same non-existent expectations to the English directors latest, but either way The Program would probably be something of a minor letdown. This isn't to say the film isn't good, in fact it has a lot of positive things going for it and I honestly wasn't ready to see it come to an end when it did, but the typical pop that comes with a Frears production just isn't at play here. Given Frears had painted a moving and somewhat revealing picture of Queen Elizabeth in his Oscar-nominated 2006 film I thought he might be up to something similar with his Lance Armstrong biopic, but alas there is no alternate version of Armstrong's life that the news reports haven't already divulged. Instead, Frears recounts the highs and lows of Armstrong's career with a compelling flow and solid performances, but nothing to give it that extra oomph to make it something truly special.

TIFF 2015: TRUTH Review

I don't typically watch the news anymore. If I do it's only because it's on in the background at a restaurant or friends house. I don't even have cable. I get my news updates and read the latest stories on the internet. Naturally, that means Truth makes me feel like a horrible individual. This is the case because Truth deals in the purity of investigative journalism, the integrity it was once synonymous with and the standards that every great reporter would ideally hold themselves to. Of course, the truth is also relative and in his directorial debut James Vanderbilt (who has written screenplays such as Zodiac and White House Down) explores this idea by telling the behind-the-scenes story of the 2004 60 Minutes investigation of then-President George W. Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard. This investigation, led by producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), comes under heavy scrutiny after the legitimacy of a handful of documents that question the conduct and participation of Bush while in the National Guard are thought to be fake. Vanderbilt ultimately plays things safe and goes with a rather trusted formula and conventional approach a la any newsroom drama you've ever seen, but because the story in and of itself is so interesting (as is also typically the case with newsroom dramas) and given the way the film deals with the subsequent firestorm of criticisms and accusations that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mapes their careers it more than sustains itself and delivers a solid if not exceptional venture.

TIFF 2015: LEGEND Review

Legend is a movie that aspires to be a great gangster epic and in some regards it is, but this is not the gangster epic in the same vein as something like Goodfellas. It is more a representation than an adaptation, which is fine because it works for the characters at play and never fails to be thoroughly entertaining. Director Brian Helgeland delivered a straightforward, but rousing biopic of Jackie Robinson two years ago in 42, but has written films such as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River in his twenty-seven years in Hollywood. With Legend, Helgeland tests his directorial prowess by taking on a much bigger scope and a more complex story that features a diverse set of personalities. Each of these things having to be managed and pieced together in a way that feels coherent and there are times you can almost feel the structure creaking under it's own weight. Near the end of the second act the film almost gives way to a full on tsunami of varied tones and plot strands falling in on themselves and flooding out to leave behind nothing more than puddles of once strong and vibrant storytelling methods as well as the exceptional double performance of Tom Hardy. Lucky for Helgeland, he hired an actor with as much gravitas and ability as Hardy allowing him to pull off this stunt and leave the audience ruptured in his showing to the point we don't so much care about what else is going on around him. We acknowledge the given circumstances the real-life people fell into, but we're all just watching to see what Hardy does with the situation.

TIFF 2015: THE DANISH GIRL Review

Despite The Danish Girl being one of the more anticipated premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival this year (it's technically just the North American premiere if you paying attention to those types of things) I couldn't have been more hesitant to embrace the film. This has nothing to do with the fact it consists of a story about the first man to undergo a sex reassignment surgery, but more it so blatantly felt like awards fodder. Everything about the film screams Oscar. It is directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), is a period piece, deals in a very hot topic at the moment and stars Eddie Redmayne who won the Best Actor award last year for playing Stephen Hawking. After playing a real-life person with a severe disability what is the second most obvious choice for an actor to play if they hope to be nominated or win an Oscar? Well, playing a woman of course. Beyond this, I haven't been a fan of Redmayne's up until this point either. I'd not seen him in anything prior to My Week With Marilyn and thought him fine in that, but he only irritated me as Marius in Les Mis, he was gloriously bad in Jupiter Ascending (I know, what wasn't in that film?) and I personally didn't think he deserved the Best Actor statue over Michael Keaton last year. And yet here we are with Redmayne having delivered a performance I would have no issue with him winning for because despite all it's obvious pandering The Danish Girl is an affecting and beautifully captured story of bravery and inspiration that shouldn't be boiled down to or judged by it's perceived intentions.

TIFF 2015: THE LOBSTER Review

Most will likely walk out of The Lobster either loving it or hating it. It's easy to see why this will be something of a divisive film given it's weird as hell. With all its observational humor conveyed in static, dry tones and cynical quips that paint the internet culture into a real-world society it will surely have its fans. Undoubtedly, there is much to like and appreciate here, but while I laughed several times and found the overall sentiment of the film to be a rather sweet one that is conveyed in a ridiculous yet inventive way I couldn't help but feel this just wasn't my thing. The strangeness of the set-up to this world is so out there that it can't help but feel weird solely for the sake of being weird. Weird is fine and all, but The Lobster is really stretching it. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, in his English-language debut, certainly has a lot to say with his high-concept comedy, but until the last half hour or so of the film things are more about the concept than they are the points he's trying to make. Lanthimos spends so much time trying to make sure his audience will understand this world without blatantly spilling tons of exposition that all of the dialogue in the first hour feels like a sly way of explaining the rules of this world where you check into a resort to find a mate and if you don't successfully do so in forty-five days, you're turned into an animal. So, yes, the film is conceptually striking given it is all a large metaphor for the way in which society tells us our lives are better when lived with a partner, but never does it transcend this gimmick until the moving final shot.

TIFF 2015: I SAW THE LIGHT Review

Hank Williams doesn't seem to have been that great of a guy. He became addicted to the drink, morphine and other painkillers as well as fathering several children, only one of which he ever married their mother and this all before his untimely death at the age of twenty-nine. While Williams may not have necessarily been the best guy (and possibly one of the worst parents) it is usually these types of people that stand to create the most interesting stories and in Williams case, write the most interesting ones as well. Before becoming popular as a singer Williams was primarily known for being one of country and westerns top songwriters. Williams penned and performed countless tunes for a radio show in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama before securing a deal with the music publishing firm Acuff-Rose as a professional songwriter. All of that taken into consideration, you wouldn't really come to learn much of it from the Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) biopic concerning Williams as it tends to only patch together a few story points in the singers life rather than dig in and find out what really made him tick. It's admirable that Abraham doesn't take the easy route of opening his film backstage before one of Williams last shows and using it as a framing device for a period of reflection in which the movie's told, but he also doesn't come up with an alternative way to tell us anything insightful about the man and a movie needs to offer more than a Wikipedia page does.

TIFF 2015: OUR BRAND IS CRISIS Review

Our Brand Is Crisis is a Grant Heslov/George Clooney production, but it's not Argo in the sense that it's not a political thriller and it's not Monuments Men in the sense it's no heroic story parading around as a nostalgia trip of the 1960's. As this is a David Gordon Green picture though, this is a film that ends up being something of a mashup between a political drama and slapstick comedy. Green is an eclectic director who has dipped his hand in heavy drama (George Washington, Snow Angels) as well as broad comedy (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and his latest somewhat blends these two styles to create something uniquely edgy if not completely conventional in the beats it hits. From the outset, Our Brand Is Crisis feels like a straightforward documentation of the carousel of politics this world and it's countries become wrapped up in, but given this is Green we'r talking about it also means the characters involved in such circumstances have a unique set of sensibilities that give the otherwise unsurprising narrative a twist. Early on in the film Sandra Bullock's 'Calamity' Jane Bodine tells a room of campaign volunteers they need to help make the narrative fit their candidate rather than the other way around. Green seems to have heeded his films own advice as he clearly caters his story to the character of Jane and her off the wall methods that have made her one of the most well-regarded campaign strategists in the game. Were Green to have not done this we would have little more than a standard political drama, but given the characters are fun and engaging it's impossible to not see it as more than that.

TIFF 2015: THE WITCH Review

Maybe it was the expectations, maybe it was the promise of something fresh in a genre we only get one or two exceptional pieces in each year, but whichever way you cut it The Witch is something of a let down. As I walked out of the theater I couldn't help but to feel I'd just witnessed something I wasn't supposed to. Writer/director Robert Eggers has adapted his story from old folklore and stories of supposed withcraft in the New England region circa 1630 that have been passed down over generations and has even used a fair amount of dialogue from journals and other written accounts that still exist. While this is nothing short of fascinating and makes for an authentic-feeling atmosphere that unfortunately ends up being the films single greatest strength. The lurking woods that lay just outside the house of William, his wife Katherine and their five children including newborn Samuel stand as something of a no-mans land that is a constant reminder of just how little wiggle room there is for our characters. This is not only true of their physical space, but of their mindset as William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life and teach their children to do the same. We never look at the characters as ignorant or naive, but more in the light of them having a very narrow view of how to explain things and thus the film itself feels trapped in this little box just waiting to burst out with the supernatural sorcery that seems to lie just on the other side of those woods.

TIFF 2015: YOUTH Review

I may not have any right to review director Paolo Sorrentino's (The Great Beauty) new film given I'm what I'd consider a youthful twenty-eight and this is clearly a film meant to elicit the broad scope, the big picture or the authentic perspective of an experienced life. I recognize that I can't even attempt to understand all of what this film is trying to say or all of what Sorrentino hopes to accomplish with such a work, but I feel I can at least recognize what he is going for. In fact, one character even describes the seeming intent of Youth within the film when he describes the film he's set to direct himself as a, "sentimental and intellectual last statement." While Sorrentino himself seems far from this stage of his career it seems as if that's the kind of film he intended to produce here; a sentimental ode to aging and the wisdom that experience and perspective bring while simultaneously becoming too old to recall any of this knowledge as processed through the guise of an intellectual. There is no issue with the aspiration as I would love to bear witness to a film that does some kind of justice to the striking injustice that is finally reaching a point where you might find some true hint of understanding only to develop Alzheimer's or croak the next day, but Youth is more a film that serves as a discussion of such philosophies and ideas rather than one that tells a story that conveys such ideas.

TIFF 2015: BROOKLYN Review

Brooklyn is gorgeous and moving and all things warm and fuzzy without ever devolving into a Hallmark channel original. From the moment the film opens on a doe-eyed and innocent Saoirse Ronan working feverishly in a convenience shop in the early 1950's I was hooked by the effortless quality of the inviting atmosphere director John Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit) establishes. Even when a character as horrible as Ronan's prickly boss is present she can't dampen the mood of the eternally vibrant tone that radiates off this thing like a campfire in early fall. This immediate sense of safe familiarity allows for the rather objective-less story adapted from Colm Toibin's novel by Nick Hornby (About A Boy) to feel all the more profound and affecting as it unravels. While nothing that happens in Brooklyn will make you think too critically or give you a sense of accomplishment it is more a relaxing and comforting experience of a movie. It exists simply to make you feel something. Whether that something is overly sentimental or not will depend on your own mentality, but for the sake of my gullible and rather naive mind it was a perfectly cooked and plated dessert that made me feel cozy to the point of almost feeling gluttonous. Brooklyn gives and gives and never fails to keep you in line with it's simple narrative and somewhat complex emotional roller coaster that is complimented by it's ability to paint it's scenarios as simply as it can. Cheers to simplicity, to pleasantries and to being sappy; sometimes, it's all you need.

TIFF 2015: DEMOLITION Review







Demolition is more about deconstruction than it is about necessarily destroying anything. I mean, things are destroyed, obviously, but not for the sake of getting rid of them. Instead, our main character Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a person who finds liberation in his soul-searching through methods of destruction. In the latest from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) we dive into the deep end right off the bat as we are witness to a man losing his wife in a horrific car accident and not feeling a thing afterward. This kind of wake-up call to the fact he’s been living a meaningless life for the past however many years gives our protagonist the need to demolish everything that constructed that prior existence. This realization is of course tipped off by what is typically a heartbreaking event and yet Davis shows no signs of distress or loss thus giving the film something of an edge while still being able to explore the mundane aspects of life that it seems to find so interesting. If the film is anything it is a showcase for Gyllenhaal to display what has made him one of the more credible leading men in a saturated market and for this Demolition thrives the majority of the time. The rest of the time you can feel screenwriter Bryan Sipe (with his first major screenplay) searching for an ending or a way to bring all of Davis' destruction around to some kind of meaningful epiphany, but it never gels. Unfortunately, this trips up a rather promising beginning that has all the momentum in the world in it's first hour.

TIFF 2015: SICARIO Review

There is something exceptionally startling about director Denis Villeneuve's approach to his rather subtle character examinations. Neither Prisoners or Enemy did anything to necessarily expand our minds to the way we work as humans, but they called often dismissed thoughts and qualities to the surface. With his latest, Sicario, the director is once again examining the human condition under the most stringent of circumstances and once again he puts our nerves through the ringer. Having more than enjoyed both of Villeneuve's previous studio efforts (I've yet to see Incendies, but clearly need to) and anticipating his latest if not based on his previous work, but for the trio of stellar actors he recruited to execute this feature I walked away from Sicario with a stunned respect for how what was being said was in fact stated. Brutal beyond measure, unflinching to a fault and featuring an extremely serious tone balanced by a slight comedic performance from Josh Brolin, Vileneuve has crafted a film that is not wholly concerned with plot as much as it is the examination of the complexities of these people who are trapped in a world convoluted beyond their comprehension that only continues to go around in circles. Sicario is by no means a masterpiece of the genre as it does tend to lose some of it's steam in it's middle section, but it more than makes up for it with a chilling conclusion and a tension throughout that is something akin to unshakable.

Full Trailer for CAROL Starring Cate Blanchett

After drawing huge praise at Canne earlier this year and getting a second wave of unanimous-seeming applause this past weekend with Telluride it seems Carol is poised to be the film to beat this Oscar season. Coming from director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There) this isn't much of a surprise and given the lush cast of talented performers it isn't difficult to believe there is something great here. That said, Blanchett does seem like the obvious choice for something like this and while her performance is no doubt stunning and it would be wrong not to cast a talented actress simply because it seems like the obvious choice it makes the first impression of the film seem a little tired. What saves this trailer from looking like little more than just a pretentious and obvious Oscar-contender dealing in white people problems is the presence of Rooney Mara. Mara made a name for herself by collaborating with David Fincher on The Social Network and then headlining his version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but has since chosen her roles sparingly, popping up in small but solid dramas such as Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Side Effects and Her. Mara is more than equipped to convey the emotional devastation that typically comes with a Haynes production and while Blanchett will likely receive another Best Actress nomination for her titular role I am looking forward to Carol not only for the beautiful lighting and period aesthetic that long-time Haynes collaborator Edward Lachman has seemed to capture, but for Mara's performance to hopefully position her as the next obvious choice when it comes to great roles for women. Carol also stars Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Cory Michael Smith and opens on November 20th.

First Trailer for DEMOLITION Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

While last years The Judge was a more commercial choice for the opening night film at TIFF this year the festival has chosen something a little less broad given the film doesn't actually open until next April and there is little known of the project. That all changed yesterday when Fox Searchlight decided to go ahead and drop the first trailer for Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts. As this years opening night film and despite the fact it will be absent from the awards race, Demolition is still a highly anticipated picture for it's credentials alone. The honor of being the opening night film certainly gives the movie status as one of the "bigger" films of the festival, but those credentials are the real reason to get excited. The most striking credential is of course that it stars Gyllenhaal, who has been on more than a hot streak lately. Sure, Southpaw didn't go over as well as his previous efforts, but the guy is clearly hitting a stride and I can only anticipate his collaboration with director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) will continue that streak. The film tells the story of Davis (Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker who struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Demolition also stars Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind, Wass Stevens, Polly Draper, Brendan Dooling and opens on April 8, 2016.

First Trailer for OUR BRAND IS CRISIS Starring Sandra Bullock

I'll be seeing Our Brand Is Crisis on my third day in Toronto (which is this Saturday!) so it's nice to be getting a little more info on one of the bigger films that will be premiering at TIFF this year. The film comes to us courtesy of director David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express) is written by Peter Straughn (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Debt) and is an adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name. The film follows a group of American consultants who accept the challenge of getting an unpopular Bolivian president re-elected. Sandra Bullock will make her Oscar bid as maverick political consultant, "Calamity" Jane Bodine, who comes out of retirement to lead the team while Billy Bob Thornton portrays her nemesis, Pat Candy. The trailer offers a strong political satire vibe with the material in line to perfectly blend the more broad comedic strokes of Green's mainstream work with the low-key, dramatic material he seems to call home. In being able to find a balance in these two styles I can only hope to expect great things from the film and with Warner Bros. positioning this in a Oscar-friendly release date just before it was announced the film would premiere at TIFF I can only assume those expectations will be satisfied. Our Brand is Crisis also stars Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida and opens October 30th.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 8, 2015

TIFF 2015: MOST ANTICIPATED MOVIES AT THE 2015 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

In one week's time I will be venturing out for my first experience at the Toronto International Film Festival and I'm pretty pumped. Having sat back and watched coverage of this festival come pouring in over the past few years wishing I was part of the discovery it is honestly a dream come true to be able to not only attend, but cover the festival. I will arrive in Toronto on Thursday, September 10th at 2:12 pm. If time permits the first film I'd like to catch would be director Denis Villeneuve's (Prisoners, Enemy) latest in Sicario, but given it starts at 3:00 pm I'm not counting on it. This is no big loss as I'll be able to see the film two weeks later as it will open in my market on September 25th, but still, it would be nice to knock it out. If Sicario doesn't pan out I'm looking at my first film being the opening night film, Jean-Marc Vallée's (Dallas Buyer's Club, WildDemolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts that doesn't open stateside until next April. From this point out, if all goes according to plan, my wide-eyed enthusiasm will have me experiencing five movies a day over the next six days (with days three and four giving me something of a break with only four screenings a piece). On my final day in Toronto, the 17th, I fly out at 5:57 pm leaving me time to catch Black Mass at 11:45 that morning, a day before it opens wide. Given Mass is already on my most anticipated of the fall list and it more or less was the only option on my last day besides Mississippi Grind (which will be on VOD soon so I won't waste festival time on it) don't expect to see it here though there are definitely a few repeats from my most anticipated of fall article. That said, let's take a look.

QUEEN OF EARTH Review

Queen of Earth is writer/director Alex Ross Perry's follow-up to last years Listen Up Philip which also served as my introduction to Perry. With that frame of reference I thought I would somewhat know what to expect from his next feature, but Queen of Earth is decidedly different in tone while still focusing in on the same tortured themes that always stand to be enticing when conveyed in as artistic and finely articulated a manner as Perry tends to deliver them. That said, his film that more or less chronicles the psychological breakdown of one Catherine (Elisabeth Moss), never seems to transcend it's precise and bluntly honest dialogue to become something more fascinating or involving. It wants so bad to create this world of crass attitudes and lush greens so that the juxtaposition of these beastly people and their beautiful environment will create an intriguing entry point for the unsuspecting. Here's my issue with Queen of Earth and movies like it though, movies that enjoy being pretentious by default because of their flowery language and granulated picture intended to elicit a certain, more artsy aesthetic so as to say it's not as concerned about appearance as it is content-they don't do anything but talk in circles (or cycles, as the film would have it). The characters go on and on about how they've trapped themselves in their own destructive patterns, but by the time the final shot flashes on screen it feels more like the film has sabotaged it's own self.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH Review

Z For Zachariah possesses qualities both appealing and disenchanting. What more can be done with the post-apocalyptic scenario that we haven't already seen and yet when this scenario contains only a trio of engaging actors might we actually get something enticing? Of course, there are numerous ways in which we could look at the factors that influence whether a film is appealing or not, but until actually taking it in we can't be sure what surprises it might hold. What surprises most about Z For Zachariah is not that the only three actors in the film deliver superb performances, but that they are so well written and developed that part of the narrative comes to be how these three individuals deal with one another's personalities and character traits. An aspect such as this is so inherent to our daily routines that we don't think twice about it, but when there is even a slight possibility these could be the last three human beings on earth the importance of how they get along with one another is magnified. Based on a novel by Robert C. O'Brien that was published in 1974 Z for Zachariah apparently diverts from it's source material in rather large ways to not only tell a tale of survival, but one of meaningful survival.

First Trailer for THE DANISH GIRL Starring Eddie Redmayne

I'll be seeing director Tom Hooper's (The King's Speech, Les Miserables) latest next week at TIFF and today Focus Features has premiered the first trailer for the seeming Oscar hopeful. Having been rubbed the wrong way by Eddie Redmayne in both Hooper's Les Mis adaptation and his Oscar-winning performance as Stephen Hawking in last years Theory of Everything I wasn't overly excited by this blatant-feeling Oscar bid. Giving Hooper a period piece with such a timely and relevant subject matter and again pairing him with Redmayne who would no doubt be gunning for his second consecutive Best Actor statue just felt stale. I couldn't conjure any genuine excitement for The Danish Girl. I will admit though, that after watching the first trailer I'm definitely more intrigued by the film and am somewhat anxious to see what the full picture offers. Will it end up being the major awards contender it seems destined to be? Who knows, but what is most surprising is that while Redmayne is clearly the star his co-star Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) seems to be as major a player in the arc of the lead character as Redmayne himself. My favorite thing about Theory of Everything was the fact it was as much a story about Hawking's partner and how his life dictated her life and how she gave him her unwavering support and this seems to share the idea of documenting this main character from that same perspective. The film tells the story of artists Einar and Gerda Wegener, whose marriage and relationship evolves as they navigate Einar’s journey as a transgender pioneer to become Lili. The Danish Girl also stars Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts and opens in limited release on November 27th before expanding to more theaters throughout December.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 1, 2015